ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – In line with President Duterte’s order to “seek and destroy” the Abu Sayyaf, government forces engaged the bandits in a firefight yesterday, killing 11 of them in Patikul, Sulu.
Duterte was enraged by the beheading of a Filipino captive by the bandits in Sulu.
Yesterday’s firefight left 17 soldiers wounded. Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) commander Lt. Gen. Mayoralgo de la Cruz said most of the wounded suffered only slight injuries and eagerly went back to the frontlines.
He said the troops were “extremely” motivated knowing the fight against terrorism is “greater than them.”
“(President Duterte) gave a specific order. The mission is clear. Seek and destroy the Abu Sayyaf. By all means that’s what we are doing and we will not stop until it’s done
Westmincom spokesman Maj. Filemon Tan Jr. said troops from the Joint Task Force Sulu (JTFS) attacked the Abu Sayyaf in Sitio Makaita.
A fierce firefight ensued for 45 minutes that initially left six bandits dead and several others wounded.
“The troops are still on hot pursuit and a running gun battle is continuing as of press time,” Tan said.
He said the troops recovered the bodies of the killed militants.
Tan said among those killed was Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Mohammad Said, alias Ama Maas, who is wanted for murder.
Said was also involved in the Samal Island kidnapping in September last year, of which two captive Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall were beheaded earlier this year. The other Samal captive Maritess Flor was released while the bandit group is still holding Norwegian Kjartan Sikkengstad captive.
The military however said the troops have not spotted Sekkingstad, whom they believed was with the group that figured in the clash with government forces.
“There was no immediate sighting of the victim, but we believed the victim could be with this big group which our ground forces encountered this morning,” Tan said.
Tan said there are no indications if Sekkingstad is still healthy since the bandits constantly move him away from pursuing government forces.
“We have no basis yet as to his fate. However, the Abu Sayyaf has not also declared they have executed him,” Tan added.
Authorities, meanwhile, recovered the body of another hostage beheaded by the Abu Sayyaf.
The Sulu Provincial Police said the headless cadaver believed to be of James Patrick Almodovar was recovered in a remote village in Patikul town.
Villagers found the headless body late Wednesday, wrapped in a blanket with hands handcuffed.
The Abu Sayyaf kidnapped Almodovar last July 16 just outside his home in Jolo.
The bandits beheaded the 18-year-old after the deadline to pay P1 million ransom lapsed Wednesday afternoon.
President Duterte has given the military full support to run after the Abu Sayyaf, calling on government forces to kill the bandits down “to the last man.”
He said there would come “a day of reckoning” with the bandit group.
On top of the 5,000 troops already based in Sulu and 2,500 in Basilan, the Armed Forces of the Philippines has pulled out troops from Visayas, Luzon and in other areas of Mindanao and deployed them to the two island provinces with the specific mission to seek and destroy the Abu Sayyaf.
Duterte told the troops in Davao City yesterday of his efforts to forge peace with rebel forces.
“Definitely Abu Sayyaf is out of control… I have lost my respect for you in the light of the beheading of the 18-year-old,” Duterte said in referring to Almodovar.
He said he used to respect the Abu Sayyaf when it was still fighting for freedom but now his trust and respect for the group was lost.
“And here you are slaughtering people as if they are chickens in front of the public. I gave the order for the military to destroy them,” he added.
Duterte had warned terror groups like the Abu Sayyaf would remain the biggest threat to the country in the next decade.
The United States and the Philippines have both listed the Abu Sayyaf as a terrorist organization for kidnappings, beheadings and bombings.